One of the great things about the Internet and online business in general is that no matter where you are in the world, you can have your own domain, your own website, and can reach visitors and customers from anywhere in the world.
The Internet gives the everyday man or woman the chance to put themselves and their business in front of millions of eyeballs worldwide. However, as great as this opportunity is, there is one area that remains very grey, and could in the future have major legal implications to anyone who owns a website.
Where You Host Your Site Matters
Anyone with a website will have a web host (The top ten are reviewed here). This is the company that is responsible for providing the platform on which you build your website. When you upload any posts, pictures, or products to the Internet they will be placed on the servers of your web hosting company. Although the content may be yours, ultimately it’s down to the web host to say what you can and can’t show on your site.
For example, some web hosting companies won’t allow any adult or pornographic material on websites hosted by them. So how does this have anything to do with the law?
Very simply put, when you sign up to a web host you also sign up to the laws of the country your host is based in. Even if you’re based in the UK and sell a product from the UK, if your web hosting company is in the United States you better ensure your content and behaviour complies with American law.
The Battle For Jurisdiction
It has become very possible for your hosting companies country to claim jurisdiction if it feels your site has somehow contravened their morals or law. There is a case at present where a UK based website owner is facing possible extradition to the States to face copyright charges after his television streaming site was discovered by U.S authorities (Read the story here).
Although this case is still wide open it is beginning to open peoples eyes to the possible legal issues facing website owners today. What happens if you sell home made wine from the United States to customers in parts of the world where drinking is illegal? Could you be held legally accountable for breaking foreign law?
Domains Also In The Firing Line
It’s not just your web host that could land you in legal hot water abroad. Did you know that your domain could also affect who can claim jurisdiction over you? Domain extensions are about a lot more than status and ranking.
Although everyone likes to chase the .com domains because of their perceived value, that domain extension can leave you accountable to American law if they dislike something you’re doing on your site. In the same way a .co.uk domain could leave you open to issues from British authorities.
Think Hard and Get Advice
Although much of the legal decisions have yet to be made, and there would appear to be a minefield full of red tape to be unravelled one thing is very clear. You need to really think about what you’re doing when you put up a website. Whatever your business, it’s well worth taking some legal advice in regards to the laws of both the country you are based in, as well as the country who will be hosting your site.
If you’re serious about your business why take the risk if accidentally running foul of the law. Something that’s totally legal and innocent in your own country could be outlawed in another. Although it may seem like unnecessary effort and cost, anyone who is serious about their online business should really sit up and take action.
These legal issues will not be going away anytime soon, but hopefully the rules and laws on jurisdiction will become much clearer and easier for the online business community to follow.
This guest post is written by Lior Levin, a marketing consultant for pre shipment inspection companies worldwide.